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BIBLE BRIEFING

Biblical background to the events shaping contemporary history in the Middle East

"Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; and therefore will He be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him. For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will be very gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. And though the LORD gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teachers shall not be moved into a corner anymore but your eyes shall see your teachers. Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it, whenever you turn to the right, or whenever you turn to the left.' " [Isaiah 30:18-21]

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,' says the Lord. 'Many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that the Lord of Hosts has sent Me to you. And the Lord will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land and will again choose Jerusalem. Be silent all flesh before the Lord, for He is aroused from His holy habitation!" [Zechariah 2:10-13]

The uproar whipped up by Yasser Arafat over the decision of the Israeli government to build apartments at Har Homa--south east of Jerusalem and within its city limits--coincided with the Jewish festival of Purim, a festival which commemorates God's redemption of His people from the "wicked Haman" who sought to destroy all the Jews throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus of Persia--all 127 provinces stretching from India to Ethiopia.

If there is any consistency in the plans of Israel's enemies in their attempts to destroy the Jews throughout time, it must surely be sheer grandiosity. It is still true today as the spirit of Amalek voraciously feeds on the innate hatred of the brazen words--not only of Israel's "peace partners" but also of leaders of Gentile nations the world over.

Yet God's Word makes plain the fate of those who would go against His plan and purposes for His people: After the trouncing of the Amalekites by Joshua in Rephidim as Aaron and Hur steadied Moses' hands raised up over the battlefield ,"...the LORD said to Moses, 'Write this for a memorial... that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.' And Moses built an altar and called its name, THE-LORD-IS-MY-BANNER; for he said, 'Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation'." [Exodus 17:14-16]

And so every Purim, Jews take cogniscance of this promise to "blot out" the spirit of Amalek in every age as the name of Haman (mentioned 59 times in the Megillah of Esther) is drowned out by the deafening sound of the graggers (rattles), shouting and stomping of feet reverberating in synagogues throughout the world.

Faith and hope in the God of Israel's mercies are two threads woven deftly throughout the tumultous history of the Jewish nation. When one considers that neither Abraham, Isaac, nor Jacob lived to see the realisation of God's repeated promises to settle the Israelites in "the land of Canaan as an everlasting inheritance" [Genesis 17:7,8; 28:13-15], it is apparent that we who live in these last days with the benefit of hindsight should--as these great men who symbolise the roots of our faith, both as Jews and Christians--possess their unwavering assurance: Unlike man, God will not change His mind.

Throughout every age that Israel has ruled as sovereign in this land, there has been strong opposition to her efforts to live in peace and flourish as a nation. Even in the time of Nehemiah when the exiles returned with him to re-build the walls of Jerusalem, every effort was made by God's enemies to thwart His plans. In spite of opposition from without and abuse from within among the Jews themselves, the task was completed in less than two months--52 days--a tribute to God's enabling.

There are interesting parallels to be drawn between that time of asserting Jewish sovereignty in building Jerusalem's outer defensive or fortress walls (homa in Hebrew) of Jerusalem in Nehemiah's time and these same issues today.

Just as Nehemiah set about closing the gaps in the walls of Jerusalem, so too Har Homa is the last "gap" in the wall of Jewish suburbs surrounding the city--its development effectively preventing the PLO from building the capital of a future Palestinian state in the swathe of land from Ramallah through east Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

The flood of condemnation from the nations that has followed in the past weeks, culminating in the UN General Assembly vote roundly condemning Israel has been quite disproportionate to the facts. Eveyone wants to stake a territorial claim to Jerusalem--"a city holy to three faiths". And yet the words of Nehemiah to those who mocked and threatened ring true down the centuries: "The God of heaven Himself will prosper us, therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem"[Nehemiah.2:19].

There are those who would dispute that this is the case today, with the Muslim wakf control over the Temple Mount and any number of Christian "holy sites" in the city. However in terms of history and the centrality of Jerusalem to the Jewish faith, there can be no dispute. Nothing has changed. More importantly, scripture is quite clear that God will fight for Israel and Jerusalem, even today. It is a point entirely ignored--to their own confounding--by those opposed to His purposes for the Jewish people.

In the same way Israel's enemies came together to conspire to come against Jerusalem and create confusion in those ancient times, so too Arafat convened a meeting--in direct violation of the Oslo accords in its exclusion of Israel--between the PLO and representatives of the nations, ostensibly to "discuss ways of saving the peace process" in wake of the bulldozers moving onto Har Homa.

This issue of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem has brought the Oslo process to an impasse--a process which threatens to prostrate Israel before her enemies.

Yet , God promises redemption for His people and judgment on the nations: "For I will be a wall of fire all around (Jerusalem), and the glory in her midst... For thus says the LORD of hosts:'He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye." [Zechariah 2: 5, 8]

Thus says your Lord, the LORD and your God, who pleads the cause of His people: 'See, I have taken out of your hand the cup of trembling, the dregs of the cup of My fury; you shall no longer drink it. But I will put it into the hand of those who afflict you, who have said to you, 'Lie down, that we may walk over you.' And you have laid your body like the ground, and as the street, for those who walk over'" [Isaiah 51:22-23].

The time to favour Zion has come as her God draws His people back to the land of their forefathers. Surely the years since Israel's rebirth in 1948 stand as evidence of His mercies. Yet these years have not been without much suffering and pain. Israel's enemies not only surround her borders, but their grandiose intentions echo in streets of the cities and towns steeped in Jewish history, on the mountains of the Lord. There they declare Jerusalem the capital of the state of Palestine--a state not confined to a few "West Bank" towns but encompassing all of Israel. The enemy is within the camp sans the wooden horse.

God warned the children of Israel that though the covenant He made with them was everlasting, the land which He was giving them as an eternal inheritance could not be bartered. "The land shall not be sold permanently, for the Land is Mine." [Lev. 25:23] His jealousy for His people and His land is undoubtedly aroused by a process which not only relinquishes the inheritance of the children of Israel to her enemy, but in so doing, places the wellbeing and future of Israel in the hands of Gentiles rather than in the hands of God.

It is in the wake of this obscene replication of real peace--which only God can bring-- that Israel has suffered indescribable anguish and sorrow through the loss of its sons and daugthers, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, children and grandparents in terrorist attacks, suicide bombings and tragic accidents.

It is as God warns in Isaiah:"Therefore hear the Word of the LORD you scornful men who rule this people who are in Jerusalem, because you have said, 'we have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we are in agreement.'... Your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand; when the overflowing scourge passes through, then you will be trampled down by it." [Isaiah 28:14-15,18].

While Opinions may differ to the reason Israel finds itself with the constant threat of terrorism and war hanging over her like a sword of Damocles, the prophets speak of God's firm promise of physical redemption for the house of Israel from those who would destroy her in this time. God will fight for His people and draw them unto Himself as in the days of Nehemiah. If there are lessons to be drawn from those days, it is of vigilance and the reliance on God's mercy.

Despite exhaustion, Nehemiah and the people stood with tools in one hand and a weapon in the other. "Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God and because of them we set a watch against them day and night... And I looked, and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awsome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses'." [Nehemiah. 4:9,14]

Undoubtedly suffering and bloodshed will result from another war involving Israel, yet it will lead to the time as promised by God in which Israel will be His nation, circumcised in heart, entering through the spirit of grace and supplication into a new covenant relationship with Him.

A spritual renewal also took place among the exiles of Nehemiah's time who, after the walls of Jerusalem were completed, re-dedicated themselves to the God of Israel and set about rebuilding the Temple.

All this stands in contradiction to those Christians who believe prophecy fortells another holocaust for the Jewish people; a time of 'Jacob's trouble' that is yet to come--one that would overshadow, in their opinion, the Holocaust.

This is not the view of the International Christian Embassy. In the words of its spokesman, Jan Willem van der Hoeven: "The Second World War was chiefly the hour of tribulation, a terrible tribulation, for the Jewish people and can never be minimised. The Third World War to which we are racing will be chiefly God's day of reckoning and tribulation for the Gentiles as Paul puts it in his epistle to the Romans:'But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practise such things...to those who are self seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness--indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek' [Romans 2:2,8-9, also Romans 1:18-32].

This is also made clear in the book of Jeremiah: '''Therefore do not fear, O my servant Jacob,' says the Lord, 'nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return have rest and be quiet, and no one shall make him afraid. For I am with you,' says the Lord, 'to save you; though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished.'" [Jeremiah 30:10-11]

What still awaits Israel today, says Van der Hoeven, follows on from the time of 'Jacob's trouble' [see Jeremiah 30:1-9]. These verses [5-9 as well as verses 12-17] precede the promise of Jacob's return to their land for a period of healing and restoration [see 10-11 and 18-22].

"It is clear then that the time of 'Jacob's trouble' and the incurable wound and sorrow happen to the people of Israel before their promised return; just as Israel came into being as a restored state and nation on the heels of the Holocaust," he says.

"The reading of Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones brings the same sense. It symbolises a terrifying experience by the house of Israel which captures what the Jewish people did express at the end of the Holocaust: 'Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!' [Ezekiel 37:11b]

"It is to this people that God make a promise of return to the land of Israel, [Ezekiel 37:12] which did happen. This signifies, as does the other passages from Jeremiah, that the calamity that was to befall the people of Israel would happen to them before and not after their return to the land. After their return, as a sign of God's love and favour towards them, they would only experience God's correction and punishment in measure [Jeremiah 30:11b]. This is exactly what we have seen since the state of Israel was re-born in 1948." Van Der Hoeven says.

"It has been the clear teaching of the prophets and of Israel's history. Not only have they won every war, and will win every future war with five-sixths of the army of Gog and Magog not returning home, buried instead by Israel. In Armageddon the Lord Himself will fight against these nations and trample them down in the winepress of His wrath; as He has a 'day of vengeance, (a) year of recompense for the cause of Zion' against these nations. [Isaiah 34:1-8]"

Israeli historian and writer Shmuel Katz is quite accurate in his assertion that those among the growing movement in non-mainstream Christianity who count themselves as "redoubtable allies in Israels struggle with its many enemies" do not command the corridors of power among the nations. [Without Jerusalem, MED May1997]

No, our power rests with One far greater. For we are called out of our Gentile nations and have, like the Moabitess Ruth, joined ourselves to the God and house of Israel.

We, by God's grace, are able to face the uncertainties and fears of the present in which "every man does what is right in his own eyes", in the knowledge that the God we serve will do all that He had promised "for His holy Name's sake"--so that the world would know that He is the God of Israel who rules over all the earth.

While God does not need man to finish what He has ordained, we are not absolved from the responsibility which comes with the knowledge of God's word--neither as Jews nor as believing Gentiles. We who are grafted into the house of Israel by faith have a biblical injunction to comfort His people, to stand as watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem through prayer and intercession.

In the final analysis, all the indignant blustering about the unilateral "judaisation" of Jerusalem means nothing. The battle over right and wrong is not fought in the the US Senate, Whitehall or the UN. It is won in the heavenlies by the Lord of Hosts.

"'Not by might, nor by power, by My Spirit,' says the Lord..." [Zechariah 4:6]

Nicola Goodenough

THE END


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